Protests Mark 6 Years of Guantánamo

Human rights activists will lead rallies across the United States today to build pressure on the Bush administration and Congress to end the detention of foreign prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay military camp. From Washington, DC to Boise, Idaho, civil libertarians plan to hold more than 20 demonstrations and sit-ins across the country and have encouraged their supporters to wear orange as an expression of opposition to indefinite detention and torture. Orange is the color of the jumpsuits worn by the first Guantanamo detainees. Their photographs were first released by the Department of Defense in 2002.

“We believe people will turn out in force to express their opposition to the symbol and reality of Guantanamo,” said Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the nation’s largest and most influential rights advocacy groups, which is sponsoring the day of action.

In a statement, Jaffer, who is director of the ACLU’s national security project, described the Bush administration’s policy of indefinite detention of Guantanamo Bay prisoners as a violation of the U.S. Constitution and international human rights system that has been going on since 2002.

The ACLU’s “Close Guantanamo Bay” day marks the six anniversary of the arrival of prisoners at the U.S. military base in Cuba, where hundreds of foreigners continue to languish behind bars without any trial in the U.S. courts. In all about 800 people have been held at the Guantanamo prison – some of them for years on end – since it opened in January 2002.

The Bush administration justifies their detention by stating that the naval base in Guantanamo is outside U.S. territory so constitutional protections do not apply, an argument that has been consistently challenged by United Nations experts and human rights groups at home and abroad.

In May 2006, a UN panel that monitors compliance with the world’s anti-torture treaty urged the United States to close its prison at Guantanamo and avoid using secret detention facilities in what George W. Bush and his allies call the “war on terror.” The Bush administration dismissed those arguments, saying the UN experts lacked accurate information.

Last month, a UN investigator said he strongly suspected the Central Intelligence Agency of using torture on prisoners at Guantanamo, adding that many prisoners were likely not being prosecuted to keep the abuse from emerging at trial.

On a visit to Guantanamo, Martin Scheinin, UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, attended a pre-trial hearing of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver.

Scheinin said U.S. authorities told him that out of about 300 detainees currently held at Guantanamo, 80 were expected to face military trials for suspected crimes. Another 80 inmates had been cleared for release.

President George W. Bush says the United States does not engage in torture. However, he remains unwilling to disclose what interrogation methods are being used at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The “Close Guantanamo” campaign initiated by the ACLU and other rights advocacy groups will include events across the United States throughout the month of January, but it will reach its climax today with rallies and demonstrations in major towns and cities including Boston; New York; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; St. Louis; Tampa; and Washington, DC.

Organizers said some of the nation’s most popular performing artists have expressed their willingness to participate in the rallies. Among others, musician Henry Rollins, actress Gloria Reuben, and singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello said they will wear orange to express their outrage against illegal detentions.

“I am wearing orange to help bring back the dignity our country has lost as a result of Guantanamo,” said Ndegeocello in a statement. “We must join together in solidarity to demand the immediate closure of this shameful prison. It has tarnished America’s image in the world and continues to be a symbol of torture and injustice.”

According to the ACLU, in the past few weeks, hundreds of Internet users have subscribed to its Close Guantanamo pages on Facebook and, including campaigners from both parties’ presidential campaigns.

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